REVIEW: Cabaret, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until September 8.

Wisely the production gets the sight of Will Young in his little lederhosen out the way early.

After that, it’s straight into the serious business: a seriously-impressive of revival of Kander and Ebb’s landmark musical, with a devastating conclusion which chills to the core.

Previous revivals seem to have dragged the film along, albatross-like, behind them, never quite able to shake it off or let it go,–but not this one. Rufus Norris’’ double Olivier-award winning production is a bold re-imagining, and it works mesmerisingly well.

The production creates the decadence and it recreates the looming spectre of Nazism which eventually overwhelms it; by the end, you understand why Cliff must go and yet Sally must stay. Life is a cabaret, Sally sings, and Michelle Ryan superbly brings out the emptiness of the charade Sally knows she’s condemned to continue playing.

Ryan’s is a superlative performance, sexy, sassy and tragic; the show will go on, but at huge personal cost. The beautiful Maybe This time has never seemed more poignant.

Will Young never eclipses her as the Emcee in a hugely-skilled performance which makes you realise that the character doesn’t have to have the sinisterness he usually exudes. Young’s take on it all underlines that the Emcee is a victim too as the final knockings of 20s decadence are engulfed by the rising tide of fascist brutality. The balletic thuggery, to which Cliff (the excellent Matt Rawle) falls victim, is a compelling image.

Tomorrow Belongs To Me doesn’t quite have the impact here that it has in the film (If You Could See Her certainly doesn’t); but different mediums offer different challenges; and there’s no doubting the cleverness of the invention in this production - particularly in the most chilling of final scenes which underlines in the most graphic way imaginable just what is at stake.

Just as importantly, the closing moments leave you reflecting just how much such dangers still exist – a tribute to a piece which is played beautifully by the ensemble.

It’s certainly not the Will Young show. The doomed love of Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz is movingly played out, by Sian Phillips and Linal Haft respectively. Phillips makes you understand Schneider’s pragmatism (What Would You Do); Haft is touching in his naïve hope.

Put it all together, and Cabaret is undoubtedly the highlight so far in a year already full of treasures at the Mayflower. Visually it is stunning; Javier De Frutos’ choreography is slick but vibrant; and the performances all round leave you convinced that an important musical, with the most important of messages, has been done rich and glowing justice.

Phil Hewitt